New parents across Canada are disappointed after their petition for a national perinatal strategy started by the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative (CPMHC) this past spring was turned down by the government on July 22.
In spring 2020, the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative, an organization started by two women from Barrie, started the petition for a national perinatal strategy seeking a more structured support system for new parents and parents-to-be with their mental health struggles.
The petition garnered over 1,000 signatures and was brought forward to the House of Commons for review.
On July 22, the collaborative received a response from the Minister of Health, signed by Minister of Parliamentary Secretary, Darren Fisher outlining the supports already in place from Health Canada and Public Health Agency of Canada, including resource links, as well as an online portal to connect people with psycho-social supports.
“The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is mandated to promote and protect Canadians’ mental health and is committed to promoting maternal and child health, which includes supporting positive parental mental health during the perinatal and postpartum periods,” read part of the response to the collaborative.
Bradford’s Dr. Danielle Watson is a naturopath who specializes in pre and post natal care, who sits on the collaborative’s National Committee members. Mother of a toddler and currently eight months pregnant with her second child, Watson says the response received from the government is not perinatal specific enough.
“They sent back five resources, some of which don’t pertain at all to perinatal health, maybe just mental health in general. Not all of them are acceptable and not everyone qualifies for them,” she pointed out.
“What was outlined in the government’s response is exactly representative of the problem,” said psychotherapist and CPMHC member Rosa Caporicci in the collaborative’s press release. “Instead of addressing the need for a national strategy, they offered a hodgepodge of different sources, agencies, and information that is neither systematic or uniform, in other words, a dog’s breakfast.”
Research from the collaborative shows that a quarter of new mothers will experience some sort of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD), with one in 19 maternal deaths in Ontario attributed to suicide.
Watson noted that in other countries like the U.K. and Australia, where national strategies are in place for perinatal mental health, there are more organized and structured systems followed by doctors to ensure mental health issues are addressed early on so no parents “fall through the cracks”.
The U.K. follows the The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.
“They (The U.K.) have set guidelines for perinatal mental health, defining what it is, what we do about it, which diagnostic criteria we use,” she said. “It is structurally laid out so that everyone knows to do the same sort of thing.”
“Whereas in Canada, a lot of practitioners will know about these things but won’t do it all in the same manner, we won’t have the same access to services,” she noted.
Watson pointed out that Canada has a high level of care for other prenatal issues such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, which affects a lower percentage of patients, while anxiety, depression and mood disorder which affects a quarter of new mothers, have no defined testing or screening policies in place.
“I think there is a general a stigma around mental health," she observed, noting many mothers don't always seek help in fear of being seen as an unfit parent.
And while she noted that strides have been taken over the past few years surrounding mental health support "A lot of people don't know what normal mental health is postpartum."
She added that recent studies have shown that 10 percent of new fathers also suffer from postpartum depression, but there is no screening or resources available for them.
While they did not receive the response they were looking for from the government, the collaborative’s fight isn’t over.
The National Committee developed a survey that was recently approved by the University of Calgary to distribute to health care practitioners nationwide. The survey will be used as a tool by the collaborative to collect more data on what types of services are being provided for perinatal mental health, as well as how patients are being diagnosed and treated.
“We can then show it to the government, because our hunch is it’s quite diverse, and we can see which areas are under served, which populations are under served,” noted Watson. “We can see where those gaps in care are, and gaps in access are.”
The CPMHC is also encouraging all new parents, and parents-to-be to write to their local MPs, the health minister of Canada as well as the prime minister, expressing their support for a national mental health strategy for pre and post natal parents.
A sample letter and form can be found on their website here.
Dr. Watson is a N.D. practicing in Bradford and specializes in pre and post natal care. To learn more about her services and involvement with the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative, visit her website here.